Discrimination against women exists in many forms, from cat calling to femicides but there are many stops in between. Just three days ago I was listening to a radio programme which had the host essentially expressing concern that the current situation where women were coming forward to make allegations against men for sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence was having a chilling effect on men’s ability to engage in courtship activities. Throughout the show the host, and later her guests lamented what they see as women’s excessiveness in reporting sexual harassment; their concern was that by speaking up and out in this way women were essentially a threat to the natural order of things. The narrative on the show suggested that pretty soon men and women would have to stop procreating and reproducing, in essence, when women came forward to speak about their abuse they were acting in a manner that would threaten the human race.
The argument that men are entitled to harass, intimidate and impose their will on women is a clear representation of male privilege, represented in this case by a prevailing idea which maintains that men are entitled to women’s bodies. The point is further bolstered by a belief that this is how men are and they must not be prevented from doing what comes naturally to them. During the conversation on the radio one man commented that the problem men are having is with ‘feminists’ who have managed to make everything between men and women a problem. He made the point that when women are accessing public spaces they would have no problem with male attention if feminists had not caused trouble. To him the issue is not with male behaviour, the issue is those women who call themselves feminists, who have an ulterior motive and must not be trusted.
Male entitlement and male privilege persist in a culture which still sees women as existing to please, pacify and satisfy men. This is typical of a rape culture where we believe and perpetuate the idea that a woman’s consent is not important in sexual engagement. If we continue to perpetuate the idea that women do not know what they want then we are normalizing the idea and practice that rape, sexual harassment, cat calling and all the ways that sexual violence exist are natural behaviours of men that women must tolerate.
Sexual violence is not a joke, it persists in a culture of gender inequality and a belief that men must find ways to do what comes naturally to them. The violence that comes with male privilege is bolstered by the idea that women are asking for too much. In a patriarchal society, male privilege and entitlement are but the norm and men and some women agree that this is a desirable status quo to perpetuate and maintain. Deciding to challenge patriarchy must mean challenging the behaviour of men and those women who normalize violence and discrimination and demonize women for asking for better and equal treatment.
Violence against women and girls is not limited to violent attacks such as rape or other forms of sexual and physical violence. It begins with the idea that women are inferior to men; we all need to understand that without the thought the behaviour wouldn’t exist. In the work place it exists as discrimination and the persistence of the gender wage gap. It exists in churches and schools where harmful gender stereotypes are maintained and passed on to boys and girls of course it exists in the family and on the street. As long as we are teaching boys and girls that it’s okay to maintain male privilege and entitlement we are perpetrators of violence against women and girls.
Radio call in shows are important manifestations of our democracy. They give us insight into popularly held beliefs and ideas about important phenomenon such as violence against women. In this case I was in awe at the perspectives expressed and the misogyny which emanated from the opinions expressed by the women and the men who called in or texted in during the programme. We have come far but we have so much more work to do as we seek to challenge prejudice and discrimination against women.